One of the biggest issues that fans have had with the U.S. Soccer Federation over the past few years is where the matches are played. Simply put, the selection of venues for the United States Men’s National Team suffers from a lack of geographic diversity. Too many fans throughout the country are unable to watch the team within a reasonable driving distance of their homes, and it’s about time that U.S. Soccer cast a wider net.
The USMNT has only played in 28 different states throughout its history, with 13 states hosting the team 10 or more times. California is by far the most frequent location for games, with 110 all-time matches. Florida is second on the destination list, hosting the team 44 times. The USMNT has never played in Louisiana, Mississippi, Arkansas, Rhode Island, New Hampshire, Vermont, Maine, Hawaii, Alaska, Montana, Wyoming, Nevada, the Dakotas, Kentucky, West Virginia, Delaware, Nebraska, Idaho, Iowa, or Minnesota, That last state will come off the list next year when the USMNT plays its first match of the 2019 Gold Cup at Minnesota United’s new Allianz Field.
Several of these states, such as Alaska, will likely never host matches due to small populations or somewhat close proximity to states where the USMNT regularly plays. However, there is no obvious reason why other states that haven’t hosted matches shouldn’t have that opportunity. The last time the USMNT was in Wisconsin was in 1990, despite Lambeau Field (home of the NFL’s Green Bay Packers) being a great stadium with a grass field.
The USMNT hasn’t played in Indiana since 1988 and no part of New York state, other than New York City, has ever hosted a match. The team has only played in Detroit, Michigan once and Oregon hasn’t hosted a match since the 2013 Gold Cup.
While many states lack large, top tier stadiums with natural grass surfaces, this hasn’t stopped U.S. Soccer from rolling out grass on top of turf at venues like MetLife Stadium, Gillette Stadium and CenturyLink Field in recent years. Almost every state the USMNT has never been to or hasn’t played in recently is home to a college football or NFL stadium that could host a match, assuming that the dimensions of the playing surface are wide enough for international play.
Some might suggest that U.S. Soccer avoids holding games in certain areas due to concerns about possible low attendance, but is this a valid argument? The USMNT played a friendly against New Zealand in 2016 (admittedly, a rather unexciting opponent) at RFK Stadium in Washington D.C. in front of merely 9,012 fans. Another friendly that year against Bolivia at Children’s Mercy Park in Kansas City was attended by 8,894 fans.
Many cities in areas that have never or rarely hosted USMNT matches could easily break an attendance of 9,000. Detroit City FC of the 4th tier National Premier Soccer League (NPSL) averaged just under 6,000 fans (according to Crain’s Detroit Business) during its 2018 season. Michigan Stadium has held several matches for the International Champions Club that have drawn well over 100,000 spectators. Louisville City FC of the 2nd division United Soccer League (USL) averaged 7,891 fans during the regular season (per Soccer Stadium Digest). Clearly, any argument that there aren’t soccer fans in Kentucky or Michigan doesn’t hold up.
If supporters in these areas are willing to turn out in such high numbers for lower division soccer or European club soccer, than surely a USMNT match in these same places would be well-attended. While U.S. Soccer is still heavily reliant on ticket sales for revenue, it has a rumored $150 million surplus, per Steve Goff of the Washington Post. The Federation is in strong enough of a financial position that one poorly attended game would not be a major concern.
The USMNT shouldn’t only be accessible to those living in California or the Northeast. The next Clint Dempsey just might be inspired to start playing soccer after watching a USMNT game in Honolulu or Las Vegas. It’s time that U.S. Soccer makes a serious effort to spread the team’s matches throughout the country.